Google has announced that it will not be seeking to renew its contract to continue working alongside the US Department of Defense. The company attracted criticism even from its own employees when news emerged earlier this year that it would be providing artificial intelligence to the US military.
Artificial intelligence is the development of computer systems that can perform tasks that can otherwise be performed only through human intelligence. This includes but is not limited to visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.
Presently, most of the technology focused on Artificial Intelligence is properly known as narrow AI or weak AI. Self-driving cars and Siri are some of the platforms that employ AI (narrow AI). Researchers and experts believe that humanity is now on the path to creating General Artificial Intelligence (AGI). According to scientists, AGI would be able to outperform humans in nearly every single cognitive task.
Google LLC is an American multinational technology company that was founded in 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin while they were Ph.D. students at Stanford University, in California. Alphabet declared that it made $3.5 billion in net income and saw sales of $26 billion in the second quarter of 2017. One of Google’s main investments is in the field of artificial intelligence. One of the most successful programmes that have been created with regards to AI is Google’s AlphaGo. Go is a strategic board game that is considered even more difficult than Chess.
In March 2018, it was revealed that the US Department of Defense was using advanced artificial intelligence technology from Google to analyze drone footage. The US government is using Google’s advanced artificial intelligence technology to carry out its mission.
In the past, Google has been cautious to work closely with governments, especially with regards to the military. Google’s pilot project with the Defense Department’s Project Maven clarified this was an effort to identify objects in drone footage. However, the media has reported that employees within the company are deeply divided about Google’s involvement with the US military. Google’s Eric Schmidt summed up the tech industry’s concerns about collaborating with the Pentagon at a talk last fall. “There’s a general concern in the tech community of somehow the military-industrial complex using their stuff to kill people incorrectly,” he said.
In opposition, a number of Google employees resigned. In addition, thousands of those working in the company co-signed a letter protesting the project. "This plan will irreparably damage Google's brand and its ability to compete for talent. Amid growing fears of biased and weaponized AI, Google is already struggling to keep the public's trust," the letter noted at the time. "Google's unique history, its motto Don't Be Evil, and its direct reach into the lives of billions of users set it apart."
Diane Greene, a top executive within the company, has reportedly told Google staff that the organization would not be renewing its contract. The news was reported by outlets like BBC. The current contract expires in 2019 and there will not be a follow-up contract. However, despite criticism and the ongoing controversy, internal emails reviewed by media outlet, Gizmodo show that executives viewed Project Maven as a golden opportunity. The upper echelon within the organization believed that it would open doors for business with the military and intelligence agencies.
The company notes that this project will save lives rather than put them in danger. The statement adds, “Maven is a well publicized DoD project and Google is working on one part of it — specifically scoped to be for non-offensive purposes and using open-source object recognition software available to any Google Cloud customer. The models are based on unclassified data only. The technology is used to flag images for human review and is intended to save lives and save people from having to do highly tedious work.”
Our assessment is that Google chose to not continue with the project due to the criticism it incurred within its own organization. However, the company has not completely shut down the possibility of a future collaboration in the future. Experts and analysts have long warned about the use of AI in law enforcement and military, especially in the deployment of killer robots. AI has already been adopted by the military and this has caused concern in the international community.